Recently I was taking an intensive oil painting class and sat next to a lovely young woman. In this class, we doubled up at tables. This served two purposes. First, it was possible to lean over and ask, “Did he really say to put the alizarin next to the cadmium yellow?” And second, we were given the opportunity to meet a new person who also loves art. Win-win, right?
My tablemate was a pretty little elfin girl. She had a very sweet smile and pleasant demeanor. We joked about having someone happy to sit next to, as it is such a drain to have a grumpy complainer camped out beside you.
Then the inevitable question came up, “What do you do?” For some reason, I didn’t want to say that I work for a ministry. I just had a check. I thought to myself, “What is wrong with you? Are you ashamed?!” As a rule I don’t like to just blurt out my personal business, because that’s the Spirit’s to orchestrate. But reluctantly, I ended up saying I work for a publishing house and ministry, hoping it would be enough. It wasn’t! If anything, it opened the floodgates. Out came this woman’s tale of going to Liberty University and her saying, “I lost my faith.” A Christian college was just what the doctor ordered to annihilate her fledgling faith.
It isn’t that I question how this could happen, I’m just sad that it did. As I thought about what happened to her, I reflected on my own faith. I have dealt with some pretty ugly sheep in my day. I don’t usually expect fangs to reside behind sweet, sheep-y features. That doesn’t make me naïve. On the contrary, over the years, the Spirit has pounded my cynical nature out of me, and I choose to take people at face value.
So how do you go to a Christian college and leave an atheist? I guess the same way I went to an Episcopalian Preparatory school thinking I would find God and didn’t. Just because it bears the title “Christian” doesn’t mean Christ is involved at all.
But how do you lose your faith? After such a brief meeting, I don’t know this lady’s issues or situation, but clearly she didn’t find what she was looking for. Her expectations weren’t met and she chose to leave Christianity rather than fight. So why? How could this happen? I believe it’s about looking for love in all the wrong places. I believe you leave the faith because your faith was in men and not in the person of Christ. Our faith is hard enough even when we are following the Shepherd, but it’s just impossible without Him. The Word says they left us because they were not a part of us. Faith in Christ is living with Christ. Emanuel, God with us!
I am sad that this woman didn’t fall in love with the Man. I don’t question why she possibly didn’t see Him in the faces of those at a Christian institution. There are so many who are like sheep without a Shepherd. And then again, there are also willful creatures who will not be shepherded. Who knows which this woman is? All I can say is that our faith is about and in a Person, or it’s worth nothing. Faith is about a relationship and a nearness. If our faith is about a figurehead, a theology, an ideal, a belief or mankind, we are on a shifting sand that will leave us disillusioned and set up for disappointment. Christ is either the center or we are not actually following Christ.
As I spent the remainder of the two days of painting with my tablemate, I did find out that part of her issue was that she wanted to live how she wanted to live. She was not willing to follow the Shepherd wherever He went. The legalists at Liberty just gave her an excuse to seal the deal.
Her story isn’t over. And I pray she comes face to face with the person of Christ and is able to fall in love. His Love is the only thing that will entreat us to come and lay down self.
So I ask the question that many have asked, “Who can be saved?” Because man is used in the sowing of seed, the temptation is to make the harvest man-centered—MY desire, MY will, MY choice, MY life. The sower, the seed, the ground, the life – are all in the hands of our God. He is the CENTER of any fruit-bearing. I only want to receive what has been conceived in the heart and mind of God. May my new friend’s faith be lost in the power and performance of man. May her disillusionment be in man’s ability to produce what only God has…LIFE.
A lost faith is not the crisis. Not being found by Him is the issue! The countless souls walking about, looking to institutions to represent the Life of Christ, will always be disappointed. It’s only when we fall deeply in love with a Person, rather than an idea, that we will truly pursue Him. And when that God-birthed pursuit meets His passionate desire, then we will see those truly born from above.
Simple awareness of God is only the awakening of a soul, not the salvation we so desperately need.